Post | July 2022 | For Myself | 5 min read

Volunteerism Can Help To Alleviate Your Stress And Depression

Written by Roshan Thiran

11 years ago, I witnessed one of my dreams being realised – the birth of our volunteer portal, Do Good Volunteer (now known as MAD For Good).

This volunteer portal matches people like you and me, who desire to help and volunteer but never know where to look for volunteering opportunities, with organisations that need help and resources.

For years, I longed to see this “connection” happen, and finally, our team at Leaderonomics, with help from the team at The Star, has managed to pull off this magical portal.

But why was this so important to me and my team at Leaderonomics? Because volunteerism is how our nation can be transformed. More than that, volunteerism is the under-utilised secret weapon that individuals and corporations can leverage to take your organisation to greater heights.

The Weapon

For some strange reasons, in many corporations, volunteerism and CSR get branded together and are usually thrown to HR leaders to manage. Most business leaders view it as an activity that organisations need to occasionally dabble in. And for HR, there are usually more pressing issues like ensuring employee productivity, retention, and enabling their talent to grow and develop new skills and abilities.

Volunteerism is thus thrust to the backburner as a nice to-do. What most leaders fail to understand is that volunteerism enables HR to achieve all their goals. Additionally, it provides a vehicle for the business to reach a lot of its strategic goals. And it is free.

You want to live longer? We know volunteering is good for your soul. But do you know that volunteering drives up productivity in organisations? Study after study show that volunteers actually live longer and have lower rates of disease than their peers who don’t volunteer, no matter what age.

Research from both the Mayo Clinic and the University of California conclude that there are significant health benefits to volunteering, including lower mortality rates. Another study concluded that retirees over 65 who volunteered had less than half the risk of dying compared to their non-volunteering peers.

“We found that volunteering remains a powerful predictor of decreased mortality among retirees, even after extensive adjustment for possible confounding factors,” wrote the study’s authors. “Yes, volunteers live longer”, chimes Dr Gary Kennedy, who was one of the doctors who led another study in San Francisco.

In yet another study, people with chronic pain who volunteered as peer counsellors found that their heart diseases, disability, chronic pain and feelings of depression all lessened from volunteering.

A Duke University study found that individuals who volunteered after experiencing heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression two factors that that have been linked to mortality in post-coronary artery disease patients.

Imagine the implications for HR from ensuring volunteerism is a key agenda in your organisation: lower medical bills, fitter employees, more engaged workforce, people happier and more productive and you would have employees that lived very long and happy lives.

Combating Depression

In fact, the most common workplace issue is stress and depression. And what is a possible 'cure'? You guessed right - volunteerism!

Volunteering combats depression. When we volunteer, our bodies produce oxytocin, which counters stress hormones associated with depression, such as cortisol and epinephrine.

A key risk factor for depression is social isolation. Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and enables you to develop a firm support system, protecting you against stress and depression in challenging times.

“People who are socially engaged will have a better quality of life and better survival,” reinforces Dr Gary Kennedy.

In fact, employees who volunteer have higher self-confidence levels than those who don’t. Volunteering provides a healthy boost to your self-esteem and life contentment. Doing good for others and the community provides a natural sense of accomplishment and purpose. It also gives you a sense of pride and identity.

And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and perform much better at work and at complicated tasks.

But the most important benefit that volunteerism brings to organisations is that it is a proven way to develop leaders.

Leaders are developed by experiences. A number of years ago, I led the volunteer organisation at General Electric (GE) and observed many careers developed through volunteerism. One such case was Sheela Chandran, who rose from an administrative assistant to a regional leader. Even as a secretary, Sheela got involved in organising volunteer activities for everyone at the office. She learned to influence people to support her causes and learned to mobilise groups of people.

At volunteer events, she would project manage, lead and give instructions to all of us to follow. She learned numerous leadership skills (for free!) by volunteering and leading volunteering efforts.

Her developing ability as a leader was noticed and she was promoted to more senior roles in the organisation.

Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to further your career. Just like Sheela, who improved her public speaking, communication, marketing and influencing skills, HR leaders should leverage volunteerism as a great leadership development tool. And in many cases, especially for young people, there are not many leadership roles available in your workplace to practice leadership. Volunteering provides your young people opportunity to practice leadership.

Another interesting research fact: 90% of successful corporate leaders were involved in some form of community work whilst they were young, enabling them to practice leadership at an early age. Yet many of these leaders have forgotten that this same means of their development should now be leveraged for their employee’s development.

So, why do organisations not reap the benefits of volunteerism in a bigger way? Part of the issue is the perception that volunteering requires heaps of time.

But for you to live longer and benefit from the great side effects of volunteerism, research shows that you would only need to invest about 100 volunteer hours a year. That breaks down to two to three hours a week. Just two to three hours a week and you experience higher productivity, live longer and have better self-esteem.

Final Thoughts

Volunteers are often the glue that holds a community together. Volunteering allows you and your organisation to connect to your community and make it a better place. There is much power in businesses engaging their workforce to volunteer on a regular basis.

Research suggests another advantage for self-sacrificing volunteers – the ability to get dates. Surprisingly, women rate such altruism high on their list of desirable traits in a mate. So, go ahead and volunteer. It’s easy and if you don’t know where to start, create an account at MAD For Good and start your journey to a long life.

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